Now Mayor of Derby, Councillor John Whitby spent his formative years fronting Derby progressive metal band The Beyond, and later Gorilla. The Beyond are re-uniting for a one-off gig in February and ahead of the date Storge editor Sarah Lay had a chat with him about the band, the politics, and the cultural scene in the city.
“It’s like we’ve never stopped, seriously. I think it gets easier, if anything.”
Councillor John Whitby has been spending time in the last few months getting ready to put the pomp and ceremony of the mayoralty aside and take to the stage once more with The Beyond – the progressive metal band he fronted from the late 1980s into the following decade. Despite not playing together since 1998 Whitby says it’s been easy to pick up again with Neil Cooper (Therapy?, Cable, Gorilla), Andy Gatford (Eskimo Fires, Gorilla) and Jim Kersey (Eskimo Fires, Gorilla) as they’ve rehearsed for the one-off show to raise money for his chosen charities for his year as Mayor – Derbyshire Children’s Holiday Centre, Children First, Safe and Sound, the British Red Cross and the Derby Museums Trust.
The Beyond formed in the late ’80s when Whitby was asked to try out by Cooper and Gatford, “Neil and Andy were already in a band together and I’d seen them play a couple of times. Their ability was in a different league to other young musicians that I’d seen, so when they asked me to audition with them, I was very interested. I’d been playing in a band at the old Beckets pub on Gower Street when they approached me. It was a life changing moment.”
Life changing indeed – touring heavily and with a progressive metal sound that fused with elements of jazz, “I was fortunate to have older brothers and therefore I was being exposed to great bands like Rush and Pink Floyd when I was very young, I remember seeing Motörhead and Ozzy at the Assembly Rooms when I was 12 or 13.
“The rest of the band were much more influenced by the emerging thrash metal bands like Metallica and Slayer as well as other bands that I consequently got into, like Public Enemy and the Dead Kennedy’s. Our sound more or less developed with every song. Nothing was off limits, other styles of music, rhythms were all experimented with.
“The two Derby bands that I remember from our very early days were the Egyptian Kings and the One Eyed Jacks. The thing that took a local band to the next level, was when they started to gig outside of their home town. I remember The Beyond all going down to London to see the One Eyed Jacks play at the Rock Garden. I think there were similar problems for local bands then to the ones now, in the sense that there aren’t that many places to play.”
The band first released EPs on the Big Cat label before signing to EMI subsidiary Harvest and supported bands including Soundgarden, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Rush as well as releasing two albums – 1991’s Crawl and 1993 follow up on Music for Nations, Chasm. The end, when it came was rather sudden – dropped by their label by 1994 Cooper had left as Cable took up more of his time and The Beyond went on hiatus.
“I look back and can’t quite believe how it all unravelled without much of an attempt to stop it. After the band was dropped by EMI, we just seemed to collectively fall into a deep black hole. I remember my brother having a go at me for just allowing it to end without a fight, so the next day I rang Island Music and they gave us money to record some new songs we’d written.
“We started to question our direction, should we write music that was slightly more accessible? Over a period of time, we decided to give a new project a go. Jim left and Andy Lingard and Dave Petty came in and we started from the very bottom again, supporting local bands in pubs, but within a year, we’d got a single of the week in Melody Maker with Shutdown.”
This new project was Gorilla, simpler in their sound although still with heavy elements, and bringing in a violin alongside more traditional guitar band elements. But after a few years together and some well-received EPs this band too came to an end, “Our last gig was 31 October 1998, the next day I booked myself on an Open University degree course in politics.”
In 2010 Whitby was elected to Derby City Council for Labour, and in 2017 began a year as mayor of the city. It’s an honorary position, considered the first citizen of the city, and taking on duties to promote Derby, supporting key initiatives and Derby-based organisations. “Even before I’d become the Mayor, I’d given plenty of thought as to how to raise money for my charities and I’d hoped that the band could do something for me during the year, not necessarily a gig, but something at a Mayor event. So, we had a discussion and the consensus was that we would do a proper gig and I was happy with that.”
Looking like it will be a sold-out gig Whitby is looking forward to taking to the stage in later this month and just, “playing in front of, what looks like it’s going to be a full house. And seeing People that I haven’t seen for 20 years.”
From his days in music through those in politics he’s seen Derby’s cultural scene from both sides. Never given an easy ride by residents or onlookers he remains positive about where the city finds itself now, particularly around the mainstream and larger attractions, “The cultural offer is vastly superior to what it was 25 years ago, that is indisputable. We now have the most entrepreneurial innovative and ambitious museum. Quad is a fantastic asset for the arts and Derby Theatre goes from strength to strength.
“The Arts Council is funding all sorts of projects in Derby and they don’t give its money away easily. We had the poppies here this summer and they attracted 200k people! We’ve had Elton John and Boyzone at DCCC and we’ve had a few sell out gigs, not enough admittedly, and comedians at the Arena. We are missing a performance venue in the city centre, but that’s coming now. Derby’s very much on the up.”
The Beyond play a one-off reunion show at The Venue on 16 February 2018 to raise money for the Mayor’s chosen charities – last few tickets remaining here and Facebook details here. Support on the night from Damn Cargo.